Sunday, September 25, 2005

Running from Rita (Part 1)

Running from Rita (Part One)

Living in southwest Houston (Sugar Land), my wife and I watched Hurricane Rita with concern. By Wednesday afternoon, we had decided that we would evacuate. Our area was under a voluntary evacuation and it looked like we could see category three hurricane winds or at least cat. 1. A time was set, 4:00am Thursday morning and we gassed up both cars in anticipation of gas being hard to find on the road. We also went to the store and purchased items for the road like water and food and ice.

We spent most of Wednesday lashing down the back yard. I tied everything down to some tie downs i have on the sides of my concrete deck. For some items, like the weber grill, I drove stakes in the ground and tied down to the stakes. Cleaned up all of the typical back yard clutter. Picked up some rugs in the house and moved some of the furniture around.

I checked the City’s web site and the city promised to have regular garbage pick up on Thursday, so we emptied out the fridge and freezer in anticipation of long term loss of power while we were gone. I had friends from the New Orleans area tell me that they had to duct tape their refrigerators closed and toss them out. Two weeks or so without power… stinky stuff. I noticed several neighbors doing the same thing.

I awoke at 2:30am and turned on the weather to see a 175 mph category 5 hurricane bearing down on the Texas gulf coast. Channel 2 news showed Sugar Land seeing 140 mph winds. I woke up the wife and said, “We gotta get ready to leave, quickly”.

This is pretty much the run down:

1. Give dogs tranquilizers.
2. Load two ice chests with water and ice.
3. Load food in two cars (fruit bars, chips, sandwich makings…)
4. Empty the refrigerator and freezer into large plastic garbage bags and put out on street. (I checked sugar land’s web site and they promised a Thursday garbage pickup).
5. Fill a drinking cooler with tap water and leave in house for the return.
6. Fill tubs with water for the return.
7. Shock pool.
8. Pack clothes in both cars.
9. Bring every battery in the house and flash lights.
10. Cable lock safe in the back of the Explorer.
11. Pack the wife’s jewelry box.
12. Pack a back pack with camping supplies, including propane stove and freeze dried foods.
13. Portable CB Radio (truckers know everything about alternate routes and traffic conditions).
14. Portable 2-mile two-way radios (for communications between cars). This allowed us help each other change lanes, decide when to stop for break, just talk when we needed it. Make joint decisions on when and where to stop or route changes.
15. Turn off water and set the hot water heater to vacation position.
16. Shut down the bun-o-matic :(
17. Have a good state map for the trip.
18. Have a planed route on back roads and stick to it.
19. Find out who in the neighborhood is staying and who plans to leave (did this on Wednesday) and exchange telephone, cell numbers and emails.

Yes we were one of those families that needlessly took both cars (I say needlessly, but we did have three people, two dogs and food and water for a few days plus luggage). The two-way radios were great and allowed us to travel as one. We each knew what the other was about to do as far at turning or changing lanes. I could call my wife behind me and have her change lanes and then let me in ahead of her. The radios let us talk a lot and take our minds off of the hurricane and the 14 hour journey.

We had mapped out a route on Wednesday evening that included taking back roads out of Houston and putting us on I-45 well north of Huntsville. Once at I-45 we would re-evaluate the plan. At I-45 we found things moving well and I-45 was in full contraflow mode so we jumped on then traffic slowed down to a crawl around Buffalo where contra flow ended. Past Buffalo everything sped back up so we exited in Fairfield to take a break and walk the dogs. (Dog walking stop three). Well, evidently they had restarted contraflow, but the police would not let ups back on I-45, so we ended up taking back roads up to Terrell, TX and then I-20 back into the Dallas area where we stayed with friends.

Seeing I-45 with all lanes moving north was erie. People were stopped all over on the shoulder. Cars were abandoned. Eveyone using the bathroom on the side of the interstate. There seemed to be alot of groups of 4-6 cars stopping at the same time. I guessed that neighbors or multiple generations of families were traveling in groups.

The first five hours of the trip, we burned over ¼ of our gasoline and went only 50 miles. It was miserable. When we finally broke away from pack on the country roads, things went much better and we passed many gas stations with large lines or bags over the pump handles. We finally got to a city on a major intersection that was deserted there was a great big gas station with practically no one there and we just pulled in and filled up the tanks (we stopped at the same place on the return trip and gassed up again with no problems).

It was a little surreal driving through small towns with signs out saying “No Evacuation Shelters Here”, basically saying don’t stop here.

In all, our trip to Dallas took right at 14 hours. We left at 4:00am and arrived at our destination at 6:00pm. The funny thing is that it really didn't seem like fourteen hours, but we were glad to be off of the roads and in a safe, comfortable house.

Lesson learned: Map out a route and stick to it. Do not worry about taking two lane roads; you’ll be moving when everyone else is stuck on the interstate. Annother lesson learned... wait an extra day to see what the storm is going to do. You'll be stuck in traffic either way so it will not matter too much to wait until the day before the storm is to arrive.


Blogger Jay.Mac said...

Better safe than sorry.

The media over here is already trying to blame Bush for this one too- by interviewing people annoyed by the fact that there was a mandatory evacuation order and there wasn't massive damage.

Damned if you do and damned if you don't!

How did your place fare? Everything okay?

10:39 AM  
Blogger John said...

Thanks for the commments. We were actually under voluntary evacuation, not mandatory, but when you see a 175 mph monster headed your way, you just want to get the heck out.

We had very small branches down, mostly leaves. We did have a bit of a smelly issue what I'll talk about in part 2. A neighbor told me that our neighborhood saw 60 mph winds and only about 0.5" of rain. I've been through thunderstorms that were worse.

As to people being annoyed... try evacutating 2.8 million people and see how many problems you have. I think Houstonians did quite well.

Better safe than sorry.

11:22 AM  

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